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Victorious Chavez vows to push 'new socialism' in Venezuela

CARACAS -- Supporters of President Hugo Chavez vowed yesterday to accelerate Venezuela's shift to a ''new socialism" after claiming victory in elections that were expected to give pro-Chavez politicians all 167 seats in the National Assembly.

Several of Venezuela's major opposition parties boycotted the vote on Sunday, which had an estimated turnout of 25 percent and is likely to further polarize Venezuelan society.

The country has been deeply divided by the leftist leader's rhetoric, his alliance with the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and his efforts to seize unproductive farms for poor farmers, start state-funded cooperatives, and expand social programs for the poor.

''Silence united Venezuelans," said Gerardo Blyde of Justice First, one of several leading opposition parties that pulled out days before the vote, complaining the voting system could not be trusted.

Official results were still pending yesterday, but internal tallies showed Chavez's party won 114 seats and the remainder went to aligned parties, said Willian Lara, a leader of Chavez's Fifth Republic Movement party.

That would give the party the needed two-thirds majority to allow it to amend the constitution. Some lawmakers have said they hope to consider a revision to extend term limits for all offices, including the president.

Current term limits would bar Chavez from running again in 2012 if he is reelected next year.

Pedro Lander, a newly elected congressman, said yesterday the new National Assembly will aim to ''deepen the revolutionary process more and more."

Sunday's election left anti-Chavez parties, some of which long dominated Venezuelan politics, without representation in the run-up to presidential elections in December 2006.

Chavez has accused the opposition of plotting the boycott with US help as part of a larger plot to ''destabilize" the country. Both Washington and the opposition have denied the accusations.

The turnout -- lower than in 1998 and 2000 congressional votes -- came despite a government effort to get Venezuelans to the polls.

The results pointed to a loss for both camps, said Steve Ellner, a professor of political science at Venezuela's University of the East.

He said the opposition's decision to withdraw has left it open to suspicions about its motives at a time when it was faring poorly in public opinion polls.

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